Summer Solstice & Solitude


Dark, heavy clouds erupt in a series of thunderous cracks & turn mid-day to twilight.  Slowly, the rain can be heard moving in; somewhere out near the lake, then the edge of our yard & finally overhead.  Under the shelter of birches & maples, three of us surround her, waiting with her to the last breath as droplets slowly begin finding their way through the canopy.  A nod of confirmation before a hushed goodbye respectfully leaves the two of us to grieve beside her.  The lock of hair, final hug & wrap of pink blanket—details etched into memory as waves wash over us.  The swell of the storm rises fierce, unrelenting, matching the emotion of the moment, rushing over the expanse, pouring out with our tears. 

Summer’s a time for long days, graduations, vacations, reunions & weddings.  We often use summer as an adjective to describe life & love in all their glory: vigorous, dynamic, in full-bloom.  We associate spring & summer seasons with growth & development, both offer promise & a sense of anticipation; whereas, aging & death seem paired with fall & winter.  Somehow dying during spring or summer appears premature, untimely, even when it’s expected.  Truth is, anyone who has been a caretaker will tell you, death has its own schedule & itinerary.

Experiencing life means confronting death, our shared & certain fate at some point.  Just as we die, our pet companions will die.  Although most avoid talking about it, end-of-life discussions help families confront & determine their own desires for care & treatment.  Working this out in advance can make things easier for those we love to handle things once we pass on.  Advance directives & wills indicate a person’s wishes when incapacitated or dead.  They also often provide guardianship for those who might be orphaned.  However, most people don’t consider issues regarding a pets impending death, nor do many discuss or include adoption arrangements in their own directives should their companion be orphaned.

Myra was our second adopted pawed-daughter & was between 2 & 4 years old when caught & taken to a humane shelter a friend managed.  Horribly underweight, abused & exposed to the elements, Myra was a difficult foster.  Our friend had too large a pet-family to take her on—primarily because they were fostering & adopting over a dozen furry-orphans from a next-door groomer & boarding kennel at the time!  Sadly, numerous dogs were left at the business when their elderly owners died because very few people ever took responsibility for their deceased relative’s companions.

Hubby & I visited Myra in “lockup” & quickly decided we would rise to the challenge.  Without children & with fewer pet-kin, our home was a calmer, safer environment for rehabilitation.  This allowed us to focus our attention on integrating her into our household.  She adored hubby, bonded with him immediately, & reveled in us having two other “dawg-ters”—she had sisters!  Myra became part of our pack, healing & eventually gaining confidence interacting with people & other animals socially.  It wasn’t long before she became the alpha-leader of the group!

As the years passed by, our family, like all others, experienced a lot of changes including relocations & illness.  Family dynamics shift & change all the time, yet few of us acknowledge our own aging & our growing list of limitations or those of others.  We take moments to step back & assess the family situation from time to time.  Identifying changing needs & abilities of the family allows us to adjust behaviors & expectations—to better deal with obstacles & life transitions.

Hubby & I have gained & lost many companions over time.  When our family relocated two years ago we had four canines, all over the age of ten, with complicated medical conditions.  Our new vet & his staff were a godsend, gently reminding us that our “children” were now geriatrics!  Hubby & I began discussing the fact that all four of our dog companions were in the final stages of their lives.  We shared our feelings on their continuing care & impending deaths.

Euthanasia is a difficult subject for many people, but provides a compassionate way for our companions to pass away when we know illness or age prevents them from continuing to live comfortably.  They love us unconditionally & their lives are centered on our happiness.  Like small children, domesticated pets have limited capacity to understand or care for themselves; they depend on you to make important decisions regarding their care in life & in death.

About two months after relocating, our oldest adoptee Jasmine (17+yr Chihuahua) died of a heart attack & our youngest Lily (10+yr beagle-husky mix) was diagnosed with inoperable bladder cancer.  Jasmine actually experienced a series of heart attacks over a Saturday & died that evening at home.  The vet was closed for the weekend, and emergency animal clinics aren’t common here as they are in urban areas.  Hubby & I regretted not making arrangements earlier to prevent the pain of the attacks over the last hours of her life.  So when Lily developed further bladder & bowel obstruction from the aggressive cancer in just a few months, we recognized her discomfort was becoming too great.  We couldn’t justify keeping her with us any longer, and made arrangements for the three of us to visit the vet.

After the experience with Lily, we decided future “last hours” with our companions should be at home.  For obvious reasons, companions don’t always enjoy vet visits & can become anxious.  We did not want ours stressed with the ordeal of travel or setting.  A friend shared the number of a veterinary service that made house/farm calls for care, knowing our wishes & that we could use for future emergency care if needed.

There we were, left with Myra & Roenan, both over 14yrs old—ALL of us depressed, having lost both Lily & Jasmine within 6 months.  Adopting Benson shortly after that brought new life to the ‘ol gals!  Recently, though, Myra’s troubles with her back, hips & knees had worsened.  She was losing mobility, and remaining laying down to eat some days.  Weighing over 100lbs, it was hard for either of us to lift & assist her to the yard up & down the front steps.  Sometimes it took a second person.  Ear disease had caused hearing loss & difficulties with eyesight were becoming more troublesome.

Myra began to separate herself from the family at times these last few weeks.  She’d lie down in the bedroom rather than stay with everyone in the living room, preferring to be by herself (& sleeping) most of the day.  She stopped walking the hills or wild areas in the back yard, sitting off in the grass near the house watching everyone else play & run instead.  Desire for solitude & rest were some of the signals we had waited to see.  It was time; our grief tempered only by the knowledge we did all we could to make her life with us a happy & healthy one.

Myra was a great companion for so many reasons & had every bit as individual a personality as you or I have.  She loved kids, was so gentle around small toddlers & babies, was an awesome listener & took direction well.  She had always been independent but friendly.  Myra was protective but not aggressive—you knew someone had your back if she was there.  Her influence and demeanor made an impression on Benson, and he’s modeled after her.  Myra helped shape him into a gentle & playful alpha leader, loyal & loving, who has comforted us in this grief.

Soon, we will repeat this ritual yet again.  Before that though, we will enlist Roenan & Benson in the task of inviting a new sibling into their pack and beginning its training.  The crossover will allow Benson a playmate to ease the burden on Roe, as she’s losing mobility also.  When Roe passes, Benson will have bonded with his newest dog-buddy; having each other to work, train & pal around with should ease their sadness.  Roe has been Benson’s best friend since day one here.  We empathize with the grief and loss he will feel losing the last members of his “first pack.”

As summer-solstice passed, and days began growing shorter once more, our Myra left us.  She is not alone though.  She’s left for “Summerland” to join Jazz & Lily.  They are still running & playing… chasing squirrels & feline family right alongside each other… if only in our hearts.

Myra, you will be sorely missed.

Blessed Be baby girl, we love you always.